In a decision that could have national ramifications for women’s health, the Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Board is set to vote tonight on funding for contraceptives and reproductive health services for thousands of poor women. The board will consider rejecting $170,000 in federal funds provided annually to the district from Title X, because of an inaccurate and unscientific assertion by the area’s antiabortion movement that birth control pills cause abortions. Title X provides family planning monies to states for distribution to various providers who are required to give “neutral, factual information and nondirective counseling in each of the options” related to pregnancy. Kenton County Commissioner Barb Black, who is a member of the health board, a registered nurse and an anti-abortion leader in the area, called the proposal the work of extremists. Any attempt to redefine America’s popular birth control pill as an abortion drug is scientifically flawed, she said. “It’s a condemnation of the medical community for prescribing it, of pharmacists for dispensing it and even married couples for using it,” she told the Cincinnati Enquirer. The 29-member board, in a heavily Roman Catholic area that is a hotbed of anti-abortion fervor is said to be evenly split on the issue. Of the 27 board members who will attend the voting session, five have voiced support for the measure, while seven have said that they plan to vote against it in an effort to maintain the federal funding.
If the measure passes it would classify oral contraceptives as abortifacients and would refuse all federal funding that currently pays for family planning services for approximately 4,500 low-income women in the region. The board also would become the first health board in the United States to reject Title X funding on such grounds. The American Civil Liberties Union has announced intentions to sue the board if the measure is approved calling the attempts to limit contraceptive use “extreme” and “hostile.” “It shows that people who are against abortion are not satisfied with simply not providing abortion services,” said Jennifer Dalven, a lawyer with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project in New York. “They are really trying to control women’s reproductive lives.” If the measure passes, several counties may “pull out” of the Northern Kentucky Independent District and form their own health district, according to health board member Darrell Link, Grant County judge-executive.